Sex Work Against Work

STRASS - Syndicat du Travail Sexuel

While in Anglo­phone coun­tries the term “sex work” has become quite com­mon, there has been a rel­a­tive reluc­tance to dis­cuss it among Fran­coph­o­ne intel­lec­tu­als and activists. Whether among “pro­hi­bi­tion­ists,” who argue that pros­ti­tu­tion can be nei­ther a pro­fes­sion nor work but sim­ply vio­lence, a dam­age to women’s dig­ni­ty (as if the­se two terms were mutu­al­ly exclu­sive), or among those who oppose this pro­hi­bi­tion yet main­tain a kind of “skep­ti­cism towards the claim for a recog­ni­tion of ‘sex work,’” such as Lil­ian Math­ieu, the refusal to speak about sex work is in fact symp­to­matic of the dif­fi­cul­ties that fem­i­nists and the left con­tin­ue to face when dis­cussing women’s labor.1

Even if the top­ic of sex work might be enjoy­ing grow­ing inter­est in some parts of the world, the polit­i­cal chal­lenges are by no means new. In the 1970s for exam­ple, when a num­ber of fem­i­nist col­lec­tives launched the “wages for house­work” cam­paign a large part of the left and even of the fem­i­nist move­ment remained hos­tile to this demand.2  Far from being only a pro­gram­mat­ic demand, how­ev­er, Wages for House­work was instead an invi­ta­tion; an invi­ta­tion to rad­i­cal­ly put not only the whole cap­i­tal­ism sys­tem into ques­tion, to the extent that cap­i­tal ben­e­fit­ed from the unwaged repro­duc­tive work car­ried out by wom­en, but also the nuclear fam­i­ly itself, in so far as it rep­re­sents one of the pri­ma­ry places where this exploita­tion occurs.

Although the Wages for House­work cam­paign was launched at the very begin­ning of the 1970s, it was not until 1978 that Car­ol Leigh, an Amer­i­can sex work­er and fem­i­nist activist, coined the term “sex work.” And if the claim for “Wages for House­work” might not have the same rel­e­vance today now that a large part of domes­tic work has been com­mod­i­fied – for­mer house­wives who have entered the labor mar­ket have part­ly del­e­gat­ed this work to poor­er wom­en, espe­cial­ly migrant wom­en – the claim that “sex work is work,” con­sid­er­ing the active and often heat­ed dis­cus­sions it gen­er­ates, seems more impor­tant than ever in our con­tem­po­rary moment.

There­fore, while cer­tain­ly tak­ing into account the evo­lu­tions in the con­fig­u­ra­tion of the repro­duc­tive sec­tor, I will show how “sex work is work” aligns with the strug­gles for “a wage for house­work”; in oth­er words, we will aim to bet­ter dis­cern and out­line the mutu­al stakes of the house­wives’ strug­gles and those of sex work­ers, so as to reaf­firm the nec­es­sary sol­i­dar­i­ty between wom­en and the insep­a­ra­ble char­ac­ter of fem­i­nist and anti-cap­i­tal­ist strug­gles. This will allow us to bet­ter grasp the rela­tions between sex work and cap­i­tal­ism, and thus reaf­firm the need, espe­cial­ly for the left and for fem­i­nism, to sup­port the­se strug­gles in the name of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary process they open on to.

Sex Work as Reproductive Work

There are many rea­sons why we can insist on the kin­ship between the Wages for House­work move­ment and those strug­gles unfold­ing today that claim “sex work is work.”

First, each of the­se strug­gles emerged out of the for­mi­da­ble mobi­liza­tions of the fem­i­nist move­ment, which took place on the the­o­ret­i­cal ter­rain as much as the prac­ti­cal one. If the Wages for House­work movement’s affil­i­a­tion with fem­i­nism has always appeared evi­dent, this has not been the same for the sex work­ers’ move­ment. We should recall that it was dur­ing a fem­i­nist con­fer­ence that Car­ol Leigh first felt the need to speak about “sex work.”3 We can also note that, accord­ing to Sil­via Fed­eri­ci, the fem­i­nist move­ment not only allowed the con­cept of sex work to emerge, but fem­i­nism may have also played a role in increas­ing the over­all num­ber of wom­en engaged in sex work:

I think that to some extent, […] but […] to a lim­it­ed extent, that the increase in the num­ber of wom­en who are turn­ing to sex work has also had to do with the fem­i­nist move­ment. It has given a con­tri­bu­tion to under­min­ing that kind of moral stig­ma attached to sex work. I think the women’s move­ment has also given pow­er, for exam­ple, to pros­ti­tutes to rep­re­sent them­selves a sex work­ers.

It’s not an acci­dent that in the wake of fem­i­nist move­ment you have the begin­ning of a sex worker’s move­ment, through­out Europe, for instance. So that the stig­ma, the fem­i­nists, they real­ly attacked that hypocrisy: the holy moth­er, that vision of wom­en, the whole self-sac­ri­fi­cial, and the pros­ti­tute, which is the wom­an who does sex­u­al work but for mon­ey.4

Federici’s def­i­n­i­tion of the pros­ti­tute as “the wom­an who does sex­u­al work, but for mon­ey” points to yet anoth­er rea­son why it is legit­i­mate to con­nect the strug­gles of house­wives to that of sex work­ers: since work can exist even where there is no mon­ey, sex work is not sole­ly a pre­rog­a­tive of pro­fes­sion­al sex work­ers.

One of the main con­tri­bu­tions of fem­i­nist the­o­rists, espe­cial­ly Marx­ist-fem­i­nists, was to show that just because an activ­i­ty is not waged does not mean that it is not func­tion­al work relat­ing to cap­i­tal­ism. In oth­er words, it is not because an exchange appears to be free that it escapes from cap­i­tal­ist dynam­ics – much to the con­trary. By ana­lyz­ing “the his­to­ry of cap­i­tal­ism from the view­point of wom­en and repro­duc­tion,”5 Marx­ist-fem­i­nist the­o­rists such as Fed­eri­ci have shown that domes­tic work per­formed by wom­en – vol­un­tar­i­ly inas­much as it is con­sid­ered to be what they nat­u­ral­ly to do out of love – serves, beyond those who direct­ly ben­e­fit from it – work­ers, future work­ers, or for­mer work­ers – the inter­ests of the cap­i­tal­ists, who con­se­quent­ly do not need to take into account the cost for this repro­duc­tion in the val­ue of the labor-pow­er they buy.

Begin­ning with our­selves as wom­en, we know that the work­ing day for cap­i­tal does not nec­es­sar­i­ly pro­duce a pay­check, it does not begin and end at the fac­to­ry gates, and we redis­cov­er the nature and extent of house- work itself. For as soon as we raise our heads from the socks we mend and the meals we cook and look at the total­i­ty of our work­ing day, we see that while it does not result in a wage for our­selves, we nev­er­the­less pro­duce the most pre­cious pro­duct to appear on the cap­i­tal­ist mar­ket: labor pow­er.6

The diverse activ­i­ties wom­en per­form at home – such as look­ing after the chil­dren, prepar­ing meals for the men who come back from their day at work, or pro­vid­ing care for the elder­ly or ill – count as work that, although it may not not pro­duce com­modi­ties in the same way the pro­le­tar­i­an labor­er does in the fac­to­ry, nev­er­the­less pro­duces and repro­duces what is nec­es­sary, indeed, “most pre­cious,” to cap­i­tal­ists: the labor-pow­er that a cap­i­tal­ist buys from the work­er. Accord­ing to this approach, there is no fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence between iron­ing, cook­ing, and sex from the per­spec­tive of their func­tions in the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion – all of the­se activ­i­ties relate to the more gen­er­al cat­e­go­ry of repro­duc­tive work. Sil­via Fed­eri­ci and Nicole Cox con­tin­ue:

House­work is much more than house clean­ing. It is ser­vic­ing the wage earn­ers phys­i­cal­ly, emo­tion­al­ly, sex­u­al­ly, get­ting them ready for work day after day. It is tak­ing care of our children—the future workers—assisting them from birth through their school years, ensur­ing that they too per­form in the ways expect­ed of them under cap­i­tal­ism. This means that behind every fac­to­ry, behind every school, behind every office or mine there is the hid­den work of mil­lions of wom­en who have con­sumed their life, their labor, pro­duc­ing the labor pow­er that works in those fac­to­ries, schools, offices, or mines.7

And while some may think that sex now appears less and less as a ser­vice pro­vid­ed by a wom­an to her spouse after so-called “sex­u­al lib­er­a­tion,” itself led by fem­i­nism, that “lib­er­a­tion” in fact only fur­ther bur­dens wom­en:

Sex­u­al free­dom does not help. Cer­tain­ly it is impor­tant that we are not stoned to death if we are “unfaith­ful,” or if it is found that we are not “vir­gins.” But “sex­u­al lib­er­a­tion” has inten­si­fied our work. In the past, we were just expect­ed to raise chil­dren. Now we are expect­ed to have a waged job, still clean the house and have chil­dren and, at the end of a dou­ble work­day, be ready to hop in bed and be sex­u­al­ly entic­ing. For wom­en the right to have sex is the duty to have sex and to enjoy it (some­thing which is not expect­ed of most jobs), which is why there have been so many inves­ti­ga­tions, in recent years, con­cern­ing which parts of our body—whether the vagi­na or the clitoris—are more sex­u­al­ly pro­duc­tive.8

Final­ly, it should be not­ed that while Sil­via Fed­eri­ci most­ly refers to the het­ero­sex­u­al nuclear fam­i­ly, she does not see any end to the func­tion of sex as work through homo­sex­u­al­i­ty:

Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty and het­ero­sex­u­al­i­ty are both work­ing conditions…but homo­sex­u­al­i­ty is work­ers’ con­trol of pro­duc­tion, not the end of work.9

This approach to sex, which treats it as an inte­gral part of repro­duc­tive labor, allows us to reject the idea that there is some fun­da­men­tal dis­tinc­tion between so-called “free sex,” as per­formed with­in the cou­ple, and what we today call sex work, pros­ti­tu­tion.

Or as in Leopold­ina Fortunati’s puts it, “the fam­i­ly and pros­ti­tu­tion are the main sec­tors, the back­bone of the entire process [of repro­duc­tion]”:

With­in the two main sec­tors, the fun­da­men­tal labor process­es are: (1) the process of pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion of labor pow­er and (2) the specif­i­cal­ly sex­u­al repro­duc­tion of male labor pow­er. This is not to say that the fam­i­ly does not include the sex­u­al repro­duc­tion of male labor pow­er, but (despite often being posit­ed as cen­tral) it is in fact only one of the many “jobs” that house­work entails.10

From this point, For­tu­nati oblig­es us to think of the fam­i­ly and pros­ti­tu­tion not as opposed insti­tu­tions,  but rather com­ple­men­tary ones: “its func­tion [of pros­ti­tu­tion] must be to sup­port and com­ple­ment house­work.”11

This approach to pros­ti­tu­tion in terms of repro­duc­tive labor allows us not only to high­light a com­mon con­di­tion of wom­en – beyond the divi­sion between the moth­er and the whore, since even if one per­forms it freely, while the oth­er explic­it­ly asks for mon­ey, for both, sex is work – but above all allows us to bet­ter under­stand the posi­tion of the sex indus­try in the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem. Where­as most con­tem­po­rary the­o­ries are essen­tial­ly inter­est­ed in cap­i­tal­ist dynam­ics in the sex indus­try through an analy­sis of the rela­tions of pro­duc­tion and exploita­tion between sex work­ers and their bosses/pimps and/or their clients, this per­spec­tive invites us to ulti­mate­ly con­sid­er the­se two fig­ures as only inter­me­di­ary forms of the exploita­tion which ben­e­fits, in the last analy­sis, cap­i­tal. It then becomes nec­es­sary to stop inter­pret­ing the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of sex work­ers exclu­sive­ly as sex­u­al repres­sion (with evi­dent gen­dered and racist dynam­ics) and begin to see it as a kind of repres­sion that fun­da­men­tal­ly serves speci­fic eco­nom­ic inter­ests which are secured through sex, class and gen­der dynam­ics.

A Whore Army

Yet the appar­ent­ly shared posi­tion of house­wives and sex work­ers in rela­tion to cap­i­tal as repro­duc­tive labor­ers should not obscure a fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence between their respec­tive sit­u­a­tions: unlike domes­tic labor, sex work is stig­ma­tized and crim­i­nal­ized. Whether it is a pro­hi­bi­tion­ist regime as in most states of the Unit­ed States, a reg­u­la­to­ry one as in Ger­many, or an alleged­ly abo­li­tion­ist one in France, sex work is crim­i­nal­ized in almost every coun­try in the world, with the excep­tion of New Zealand and New South Wales (Aus­tralia) – two coun­tries that nev­er­the­less have strong restric­tions on migrant labor. This par­tic­u­lar sit­u­at­ing of sex work with­in the broad­er cat­e­go­ry of repro­duc­tive labor is not with­out con­se­quences, not only for sex work­ers them­selves, but for all wom­en and work­ers: the speci­fic treat­ment of sex work, or more exact­ly, its evo­lu­tion between crim­i­nal­iza­tion and lib­er­al­iza­tion, needs to be read in the more gen­er­al con­text of the ten­sions caused by the dynam­ics of cap­i­tal­ism, patri­archy, and racism that struc­ture our soci­ety.

In her Cal­iban and the Witch, Sil­via Fed­eri­ci pro­vides us with a his­tor­i­cal approach accord­ing to which the repres­sion of pros­ti­tutes start­ing in the six­teen­th cen­tu­ry is linked with the emer­gence of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion, for which the free char­ac­ter of women’s labor is a an essen­tial foun­da­tion.

But no soon­er has pros­ti­tu­tion become the main form of sub­sis­tence for a large female pop­u­la­tion than the insti­tu­tion­al atti­tude towards it changed. Where­as in the late Mid­dle Ages it had been offi­cial­ly accept­ed as a nec­es­sary evil, and pros­ti­tutes had ben­e­fit­ed from the high wage regime, in the 16th cen­tu­ry, the sit­u­a­tion was reversed. In a cli­mate of intense misog­y­ny, char­ac­ter­ized by the advance of the Protes­tant Ref­or­ma­tion and witch-hunt­ing, pros­ti­tu­tion was first sub­ject­ed to new restric­tions and then crim­i­nal­ized. Every­where, between 1530 and 1560, town broth­els were closed and pros­ti­tutes, espe­cial­ly street-walk­ers, were sub­ject­ed to sev­er penalties: ban­ish­ment, flog­ging, and oth­er cru­el forms of chas­tise­ment. […]

What can account for this dras­tic attack on female work­ers ? And how does the exclu­sion of wom­en from the sphere of social­ly rec­og­nized work and mon­e­tary rela­tions relate to the impo­si­tion of forced mater­ni­ty upon them, and the con­tem­po­rary mas­si­fi­ca­tion of the witch-hunt?

Look­ing at the­se phe­nom­e­na from a van­tage point of the present, after four cen­turies of cap­i­tal­ist dis­ci­plin­ing of wom­en, the answers may seem to impose them­selves. Though women’s waged work, house­work, and (paid) sex­u­al work are still stud­ied all too often in iso­la­tion from each oth­er, we are now in a bet­ter posi­tion to see that the dis­crim­i­na­tion that wom­en have suf­fered in the wage work-force has been direct­ly root­ed in their func­tion as unpaid labor­ers in the home. We can thus com­pare the ban­ning of pros­ti­tu­tion and the expul­sion of wom­en from the orga­nized work­place with the cre­ation of the house­wife and the recon­struc­tion of the fam­i­ly as the locus for the pro­duc­tion of labor pow­er.12

Lat­er, dur­ing the French Rev­o­lu­tion, a time that wit­nessed an exten­sion of the sphere of con­sump­tion, pros­ti­tu­tion was decrim­i­nal­ized in 1791. Clyde Plumauzille, who spe­cial­izes in the his­to­ry of pros­ti­tu­tion in this peri­od, dis­cuss­es the orga­ni­za­tion of pros­ti­tu­tion in the Palais-Roy­al:

Pros­ti­tu­tion of the Palais-Roy­al then par­tic­i­pates to a set of wider appa­ra­tus con­nect­ed to the “rev­o­lu­tion of con­sump­tion that affects the whole soci­ety” (Roche, 1887; Coquery, 2011): devel­op­ment of the adver­tis­ing tech­nics with the pros­ti­tutes’ direc­to­ries, diver­si­fi­ca­tion of the offer in order to reach a wider pub­lic, osten­ta­tious win­dows and “com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion” of pros­ti­tu­tion­al sex­u­al­i­ty. [The] first sex mar­ket in the cap­i­tal, the Palais-Roy­al thus facil­i­tat­ed the con­sti­tu­tion of a type of pros­ti­tu­tion firm­ly con­sumerist, between sex­u­al and eco­nom­ic eman­ci­pa­tion and com­mer­cial­iza­tion of women’s body.13

This appar­ent lib­er­al­iza­tion was less the result of a weak­en­ing of con­trol over women’s bod­ies than of an adjust­ment of the mar­ket to what appeared to be inevitable, even though women’s sta­tus left them with no oth­er option than a depen­den­cy on men. How­ev­er, if cour­te­sans in the nicer dis­tricts were tol­er­at­ed, even appre­ci­at­ed, the same can­not be said for pros­ti­tutes issu­ing from the work­ing class, and the inten­si­fi­ca­tion of the polic­ing and renewed con­fine­ment of pros­ti­tutes was in fact a respon­se to this “mas­si­fi­ca­tion” of pros­ti­tu­tion with­in the pop­u­lar class­es.

To under­stand this repres­sion of mass pros­ti­tu­tion, we have to grasp the link between the reg­u­la­tion of pros­ti­tu­tion and cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions of pro­duc­tion. Between the French Rev­o­lu­tion and the Belle Épo­que, a long peri­od unfold­ed in which the ensem­ble of insti­tu­tions dis­tinc­tive of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion took hold in French soci­ety: the Direc­to­ry, the two Empires, and the begin­ning of the Third Repub­lic all con­sol­i­date the mod­ern forms of exploita­tion that emerged dur­ing the last decades of the Ancien Régime, includ­ing the more advanced sec­tors of agri­cul­ture in the north of France and inno­va­tions in the chem­i­cal, tex­tile, and coal min­ing sec­tors.14 The nine­teen­th cen­tu­ry is marked by the gen­er­al­iza­tion of mar­ket insti­tu­tions and the process of ren­der­ing the labor­ing class­es depen­dent upon the mar­ket and their employ­ers. Pros­ti­tu­tion, and the con­di­tion of wom­en in gen­er­al, did not escape this log­ic. With the increas­ing sep­a­ra­tion of the home from the work­place, as well as the mech­a­niza­tion of labor and the reg­u­la­tion of indus­tries, wom­en were caught in a kind of dou­ble bind – caught between the sec­tors that had lit­tle reg­u­la­tion (domes­tic work, sewing work­shops) and large­ly exclud­ed from the major­i­ty of those sec­tors that were reg­u­lat­ed. When they entered the labor mar­ket, wom­en played the role of a sur­plus work­force for cap­i­tal, what Karl Marx calls the “indus­tri­al reserve army”:

By the destruc­tion of pet­ty and domes­tic indus­tries it destroys the last resort of the “redun­dant pop­u­la­tion,” and with it the sole remain­ing safe­ty-valve of the whole social mech­a­nism.15

As a recent study on pros­ti­tu­tion in the Gout­te d’Or dur­ing the Belle Epo­que shows, the reg­u­la­tion of pros­ti­tu­tion actu­al­ly met con­sid­er­able resis­tance from sex work­ers by way of their grow­ing refusal to work for an exclu­sive employ­er.16 The street pros­ti­tu­tion of the “rebel­lious” can there­fore be under­stood as a type of work­er insub­or­di­na­tion: it allowed pro­le­tar­i­an wom­en to earn an addi­tion­al income in those cas­es where they also worked a waged job and, alter­na­tive­ly, to gain an income pure and sim­ple when they did not have anoth­er job. In both sit­u­a­tions, the lack of reg­u­la­tion in pros­ti­tu­tion actu­al­ly con­sti­tut­ed a point of lever­age for wom­en work­ers – as an enhance­ment of their bar­gain­ing pow­er again­st cap­i­tal and patri­archy.

This rela­tion between the role of reg­u­la­tion and sex work, and its con­nec­tion to forms of labor insub­or­di­na­tion among pros­ti­tutes, is sig­nif­i­cant. First, it indi­cates that we can­not sep­a­rate sex work and work in gen­er­al. Sec­ond, it shows that the strug­gles of sex work­ers pos­sess a very pre­cise gen­der and class dimen­sion. Last­ly, it points to the fact that there can­not be a strict oppo­si­tion between a reg­u­la­tion­ist regime and an abolitionist/prohibitionist one. In both cas­es (and in the hybrid forms that lie between the two sys­tems), it is a ques­tion of how to dis­ci­pline pros­ti­tut­ed wom­en and put them to work, which the­se wom­en then con­test by assert­ing their inter­ests and attempt­ing to strength­en their bar­gain­ing pow­er. Before com­ing back to the­se aspects in the con­tem­po­rary era, we still have to under­stand the rea­sons for the­se abo­li­tion­ist move­ments and trace their emer­gence.

Orig­i­nal­ly, from the end of the nine­teen­th cen­tu­ry onward, women’s groups began to wage a strug­gle again­st pros­ti­tu­tion in order to denounce this reg­u­la­tion­ism; while a moral pan­ic con­cern­ing sup­posed white slav­ery [traite des Blanch­es] became suc­cess­ful inter­na­tion­al­ly, the abo­li­tion­ist move­ment met a very favor­able recep­tion, which led in 1946 to the Loi Marthe Richard,  which endorsed the clo­sure of broth­els. In its pre­am­ble, the 1949 Unit­ed Nations Con­ven­tion for the Sup­pres­sion of the Traf­fic in Per­sons and of the Exploita­tion of the Pros­ti­tu­tion of Oth­ers explains that “pros­ti­tu­tion and the accom­pa­ny­ing evil of the traf­fic in per­sons for the pur­pose of pros­ti­tu­tion are incom­pat­i­ble with the dig­ni­ty and worth of the human per­son and endan­ger the wel­fare of the indi­vid­u­al, the fam­i­ly and the com­mu­ni­ty.” Accord­ing to this Con­ven­tion, to be con­sid­ered a traf­fick­ing vic­tim, it is enough to be pro­cured, enticed, or led away for pur­pos­es of pros­ti­tu­tion. The Paler­mo pro­to­cols (adopt­ed by the Unit­ed Nations in 2000) pro­pos­es an alter­na­tive def­i­n­i­tion of traf­fick­ing:

the recruit­ment, trans­porta­tion, trans­fer, har­bor­ing or receipt of per­sons, by means of the threat or use of force or oth­er forms of coer­cion, of abduc­tion, of fraud, of decep­tion, of the abuse of pow­er or of a posi­tion of vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty or of the giv­ing or receiv­ing of pay­ments or ben­e­fits to achieve the con­sent of a per­son hav­ing con­trol over anoth­er per­son, for the pur­pose of exploita­tion. Exploita­tion shall include, at a min­i­mum, the exploita­tion of the pros­ti­tu­tion of oth­ers or oth­er forms of sex­u­al exploita­tion, forced labour or ser­vices, slav­ery or prac­tices sim­i­lar to slav­ery, servi­tude or the removal of organs.17

Although this def­i­n­i­tion is both wider (every form of exploita­tion can be for the pur­pose of traf­fick­ing) and more restric­tive (it men­tions “exploita­tion of pros­ti­tu­tion” but noth­ing about “pros­ti­tu­tion” in itself, and one would expect that its major vic­tims expe­ri­ence it as a form of con­straint or as some­one tak­ing advan­tage of their vul­ner­a­ble sit­u­a­tion) than the 1949 def­i­n­i­tion, it is still inten­tion­al­ly fuzzy since it does not define the notion of exploita­tion. This blur­ring allowed France to trans­late “exploita­tion of pros­ti­tu­tion” into “pimp­ing” [“prox­énétisme”] when it intro­duced and adapt­ed the def­i­n­i­tion of traf­fick­ing into its penal code. Since the def­i­n­i­tion of pimp­ing in France is par­tic­u­lar­ly wide – allow­ing the state to sanc­tion any sup­port given to the pros­ti­tu­tion of oth­ers– this means that the new French traf­fick­ing infrac­tion does not con­tra­dict the con­cep­tion of traf­fick­ing upheld in the 1949 Con­ven­tion. In oth­er words, while com­mon law mea­sures do exist to respond to efforts to penal­ize forced labor, whether in pros­ti­tu­tion or else­where, pros­ti­tu­tion is still sub­ject­ed to speci­fic mea­sures that penal­ize it as such.

What is the func­tion of this speci­fic penal­iza­tion? What broad­er dynam­ics does it belong to? What are its con­se­quences? Many answers have already been pro­posed to the­se ques­tions, but too often the­se answers refer to the repres­sion of a pros­ti­tu­tion which is, if not ide­al­ized, at least ide­al, in that it fails to account for the ten­sions and con­flicts that tra­verse the sex indus­try. A syn­the­sis of the main the­o­ries of the repres­sion of sex work, then, with a view of the gen­er­al dynam­ics hat tra­verse the sphere of repro­duc­tive labor, should help us to care­ful­ly grasp the stakes of the sex work­ers’ strug­gle. Beyond pure­ly his­tor­i­cal approach­es, it is also worth­while to take into account the func­tion of this repres­sion and the stigma­ti­za­tion of sex work­ers in rela­tion to the sex­u­al econ­o­my as such. If this repres­sion does have a speci­fic func­tion in a cap­i­tal­ist econ­o­my that relies – among oth­er things – on the appro­pri­a­tion of the free labor of wom­en, then an under­stand­ing of this eco­nom­ic con­text is not suf­fi­cient to account for the mul­ti­ple ten­sions deter­min­ing this repres­sion.

Pao­la Tabet’s work shows that if a cer­tain stig­ma defines pros­ti­tu­tion, it does not need the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem to be expressed. In many non-cap­i­tal­ist soci­eties, some wom­en are stig­ma­tized as pros­ti­tutes, not just because they take part in a sex­u­al-eco­nom­ic exchange, but because they take part in an exchange that escapes the estab­lished rules of the exchange of wom­en in a patri­ar­chal sys­tem. Tabet’s works recall an ear­lier essay by Gayle Rubin, pub­lished in 1975 under the title “The Traf­fic in Wom­en,” which also sets out to explain the oppres­sion of wom­en with­out sub­or­di­nat­ing it to its poten­tial role in cap­i­tal­ism. In anoth­er essay, “Think­ing Sex,” Rubin is espe­cial­ly con­cerned with ana­lyz­ing in more detail the sys­tems of sex­u­al hier­ar­chies that struc­ture our soci­eties:

Mod­ern West­ern soci­eties appraise sex acts accord­ing to a hier­ar­chi­cal sys­tem of sex­u­al val­ue. […]  Indi­vid­u­als whose behav­ior stands high in this hier­ar­chy are reward­ed with cer­ti­fied men­tal health, respectabil­i­ty, legal­i­ty, social and phys­i­cal mobil­i­ty, insti­tu­tion­al sup­port, and mate­ri­al ben­e­fits. As sex­u­al behav­iors or occu­pa­tions fall low­er on the scale, the indi­vid­u­als who prac­tice them are sub­ject­ed to a pre­sump­tion of men­tal ill­ness, dis­rep­utabil­i­ty, crim­i­nal­i­ty, restrict­ed social and phys­i­cal mobil­i­ty, loss of insti­tu­tion­al sup­port, and eco­nom­ic sanc­tions.

Extreme and puni­tive stig­ma main­tains some sex­u­al behav­iors as low sta­tus and is an effec­tive sanc­tion again­st those who engage in them. The inten­si­ty of this stig­ma is root­ed in West­ern reli­gious tra­di­tions. But most of its con­tem­po­rary con­tent derives from med­ical and psy­chi­atric oppro­bri­um.18

In this sense, pros­ti­tu­tion is repressed and stig­ma­tized as a deviance, akin to homo­sex­u­al­i­ty, accord­ing to a sys­tem that con­structs oppo­si­tions between dif­fer­ent types of sex­u­al prac­tices such as the homosexual/heterosexual, free/venal, etc. Rubin’s the­o­ry thus presents the repres­sion of sex work as not nec­es­sar­i­ly hold­ing a sub­or­di­nate func­tion in regards to an eco­nom­ic order, but as tak­ing place in an autonomous sex­u­al sys­tem, in which exter­nal inter­ests (eco­nom­ic, but also reli­gious or med­ical) con­verge.

Eliz­a­beth Bern­stein, a the­o­rist of neolib­er­al­ism, ana­lyzes the repres­sion of sex work as a way to reaf­firm the bound­aries between the inti­mate and the pub­lic sphere, and thus con­sid­ers con­tem­po­rary abo­li­tion­ist cam­paigns as tak­ing part in:19

a neolib­er­al (rather than a tra­di­tion­al­ist) sex­u­al agen­da, one that locates social prob­lems in deviant indi­vid­u­als rather than main­stream insti­tu­tions, that seeks social reme­dies through crim­i­nal jus­tice inter­ven­tions rather than through a redis­trib­u­tive wel­fare state, and that advo­cates for the benef­i­cence of the priv­i­leged rather than the empow­er­ment of the oppressed.20

Thus the repres­sion of pros­ti­tu­tion appears not sim­ply as a means to rein­force a cer­tain eco­nom­ic order, but rather as a means to impose the neolib­er­al log­ic into the sex­u­al econ­o­my itself. And pre­cise­ly because sex work does not escape from neolib­er­al­ism any more than oth­er sec­tors of pro­duc­tive or repro­duc­tive labor, it has to be con­sid­ered from the same per­spec­tive as oth­er sec­tors of repro­duc­tive labor.

In her research on what she calls “femona­tion­al­ism,” Sara Far­ris notes that the migra­tion of wom­en who are pushed to work in the repro­duc­tive sec­tor, con­trary to the migra­tion of migrant men, is quite sup­port­ed by the state, in the con­text of the state’s with­drawal from the man­age­ment of ser­vices such as child car­ing, and a con­text marked by increas­ing num­bers of “nation­al” wom­en in the pro­duc­tive sec­tor:

Rather than job steal­ers, cul­tur­al clash­ers, and wel­fare pro­vi­sion par­a­sites, migrant wom­en are the maids who help to main­tain the well-being of Euro­pean fam­i­lies and indi­vid­u­als. They are the providers of jobs and wel­fare: they are those who, by help­ing Euro­pean wom­en to undo gen­der by sub­sti­tut­ing for them in the house­hold, allow those nation­al wom­en to become labor­ers in the pro­duc­tive labor mar­ket. Fur­ther­more, migrant wom­en con­tribute to the edu­ca­tion of chil­dren and to the sur­vival and emo­tion­al life of the elder­ly, thus pro­vid­ing the wel­fare goods from whose pro­vi­sion states increas­ing­ly retreat. […] The use­ful role that female migrant labor plays in the con­tem­po­rary re-struc­tur­ing of wel­fare regimes and the fem­i­niza­tion of key sec­tors of the ser­vice econ­o­my accounts in a sig­nif­i­cant way for a cer­tain indul­gence by neolib­er­al gov­ern­ments and for the decep­tive com­pas­sion of nation­al­ist par­ties towards migrant wom­en (and not migrant men). […] Despite attempts in the last few years by sev­er­al EU coun­tries, to estab­lish “the demo­graph­ic advan­tage of a cer­tain nation­al­i­ty,” as Judith But­ler put it, calls for assim­i­la­tion addressed to migrant wom­en – Mus­lim and non-Mus­lim alike – iden­ti­fy a speci­fic role for them with­in con­tem­po­rary Euro­pean soci­eties, inso­far as they are regard­ed as pro­lific bod­ies of future gen­er­a­tions and as moth­ers who play a cru­cial role in the process of trans­mis­sion of soci­etal val­ues. As a use­ful replace­ment in the repro­duc­tive sec­tor for nation­al wom­en, but also as poten­tial wives of Euro­pean men, migrant wom­en become the tar­get of a deceiv­ing­ly benev­o­lent cam­paign in which they are need­ed as work­ers, tol­er­at­ed as migrants, and encour­aged as wom­en to con­form to West­ern val­ues.21

Femona­tion­al­ism, as Far­ris defines it, names “the con­tem­po­rary mobi­liza­tion of fem­i­nist ideas by nation­al­ist par­ties and neolib­er­al gov­ern­ments under the ban­ner of the war again­st the per­ceived patri­archy of Islam in par­tic­u­lar, and of migrants from the Glob­al South in gen­er­al.”22 To put it anoth­er way, the rhetoric of dis­cours­es that defend the inte­gra­tion of migrant wom­en through labor appears, in the end, to be much less about the­se women’s inter­ests than about those of the nation­al econ­o­my and its work­force, with the­se female work­ers assur­ing the repro­duc­tion of the lat­ter at a low cost. In this con­text, “the female migrant work­force thus seems to amount not to a reserve army, con­stant­ly threat­ened with unem­ploy­ment and depor­ta­tion and used in order to main­tain wage dis­ci­pline,” as it was com­mon in the 1970s and 1980s to describe “wom­en as extra-domes­tic waged,” but rather to “a reg­u­lar army of extreme­ly cheap labor.”23

Even if the encour­age­ment for the migra­tion of wom­en des­tined to the repro­duc­tive sec­tor seems to fall with­in a pol­i­cy opposed to very sev­ere restric­tions on the migra­tion of sex work­ers, the­se two dis­tinct poli­cies can actu­al­ly be con­sid­ered as com­ple­men­tary: first, we can note that the anti-traf­fick­ing dis­course, and anti-pros­ti­tu­tion dis­course more gen­er­al­ly, which aims to save wom­en from migra­tion net­works that sup­pos­ed­ly exploit them, and insists on the neces­si­ty for “rein­te­gra­tion,” that is to say, rein­te­gra­tion into the legal nation­al econ­o­my (that means, pri­mar­i­ly for migrant wom­en, rel­e­ga­tion to the domes­tic and care labor sec­tor), do par­tic­i­pate in what Sara Far­ris calls “femona­tion­al­ism.” Although glob­al­ized cap­i­tal­ism dis­pos­sess­es wom­en from their means of sur­vival, today espe­cial­ly in African and Asian coun­tries, result­ing in a mas­si­fi­ca­tion of migra­tion (and of pros­ti­tu­tion), the repres­sion of sex work­ers, in a con­text of the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of repro­duc­tive labor per­formed by migrant wom­en, con­sti­tutes them as a “reg­u­lar army of extreme­ly cheap labor” on the mod­el of domes­tic work­ers, because it has the effect of main­tain­ing sex work­ers in a pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion.

To put it anoth­er way, since the repres­sion of sex work­ers caus­es their pre­cariza­tion, this repres­sion does not only ini­ti­ate a shift in the bal­ance of pow­er in favor of clients, third par­ties, and pimps, but fur­ther serves the entire cap­i­tal­ist, patri­ar­chal, and racist eco­nom­ic sys­tem that ben­e­fits from the cheap cost of this sec­tor of repro­duc­tive labor. More pre­cise­ly, in this sus­tained pre­cariza­tion of sex work­ers one can ana­lyze their insti­tu­tion­al­ized con­sti­tu­tion as the reserve army of the domes­tic work­ers, and there­fore see the for­ma­tion of a three-lev­el sys­tem struc­tur­ing women’s labor. At the first lev­el, there is the female work­force, con­fined to the repro­duc­tive sec­tor and paid less than men, and which par­tic­i­pates in a sys­tem that still impos­es a het­ero­sex­ist mod­el over wom­en, since mar­riage appears as a means to reach a liv­ing stan­dard that their wages do not inde­pen­dent­ly allow. At the sec­ond lev­el, migra­to­ry poli­cies that main­tain the cheap costs of domes­tic labor also rein­force the cheap­er wages received by wom­en hired to work in the pro­duc­tive sec­tor. Final­ly, at the lev­el of sex work, repres­sion and stigma­ti­za­tion appear as threats to wom­en who would not accept the con­di­tions of exploita­tion in waged work, domes­tic work, or in mar­riage.

In this way, anti-sex work dis­cours­es – which only view the sex­u­al exploita­tion of wom­en in terms of non-com­mod­i­fied sex, and only see the basis for eco­nom­ic eman­ci­pa­tion in legal forms of labor, espe­cial­ly in the pro­duc­tive sec­tor – actu­al­ly seem to encour­age, con­trary to what they claim, this exploita­tion through a form of work that is all the more exploit­ed, since it appears as free, spon­ta­neous, and nat­u­ral. The demand for sex work as work, on the oth­er hand, forces us to rethink the rela­tions of repro­duc­tion with the aim of doing away with exploita­tion, whether waged or not.

Sex Work Against Work

As I have tried to show up to this point, the ques­tion of “pros­ti­tu­tion” should not be restrict­ed to a gen­der-only per­spec­tive. It is on the con­trary nec­es­sary for the left to grasp the polit­i­cal con­tent of sex work under­stood as a sec­tor of repro­duc­tive labor. It is true, as Sil­via Fed­eri­ci com­ments in her text “Repro­duc­tion and Fem­i­nist Strug­gle in the New Inter­na­tion­al Divi­sion of Labor,” that the real stakes of repro­duc­tive labor have been too often ignored by the fem­i­nist move­ment itself:

If the fem­i­nist move­ment had strug­gled to make the state rec­og­nize repro­duc­tive work as work and take finan­cial respon­si­bil­i­ty for it, we might not have seen the dis­man­tling of the few wel­fare pro­vi­sions avail­able to us, and a new colo­nial solu­tion to the “house­work ques­tion.”24

For this rea­son, the sex work debate should be approached as a new occa­sion to (re)think this ques­tion, and fur­ther­more, to build a true oppo­si­tion to the lib­er­al pol­i­tics that has for so long con­trolled the dis­course sur­round­ing this ques­tion, with the con­se­quences we have observed (femona­tion­al­ism, lib­er­al­iza­tion of the sex indus­try only in favor pimps, an increase in the amount of work per­formed by wom­en fol­low­ing state dis­en­gage­ment from pub­lic ser­vices, etc).

To affirm that sex work is work there­fore appears as a nec­es­sary step inso­far as it con­cerns the strug­gle again­st cap­i­tal­ism as well as women’s eman­ci­pa­tion, above all their sex­u­al eman­ci­pa­tion. It is in this sense that we can qual­i­fy the polit­i­cal effi­ca­cy of this slo­gan “sex work is work” by repeat­ing Kathi Weeks’ assess­ment of the Wages for House­work cam­paign as “a reformist project with rev­o­lu­tion­ary aspi­ra­tions.”25 Indeed, if the strug­gle again­st the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of sex work might ini­tial­ly appear to be a reformist project, essen­tial­ly con­sist­ing of requests for a leg­isla­tive change in order to ame­lio­rate sex work­ers’ labor con­di­tions, then to appre­hend sex work as work nonethe­less opens up more ambi­tious and expan­sive per­spec­tives for eman­ci­pa­tion.

Con­cern­ing the strug­gle again­st crim­i­nal­iza­tion, it’s enough to recall that if sex work­ers can be defined as the reserve army of exploit­ed wom­en, be it because of waged work, domes­tic work, or mar­riage, then the improve­ment of their con­di­tions can only be ben­e­fi­cial. In the same way, if the per­sis­tence of the stig­ma around pros­ti­tu­tion acts like a threat upon all wom­en in the sense that it not only lim­its their lib­er­ties, but above all legit­imizes forms of vio­lence again­st them, then the strug­gle again­st the stigma­ti­za­tion of sex work should be a pri­or­i­ty in the fem­i­nist agen­da. And in so far as the “anti-pros­ti­tu­tion” strug­gle, on a glob­al scale, essen­tial­ly takes the form of the anti-traf­fick­ing (such as defined by the 1949 UN Con­ven­tion) strug­gle – through the fund­ing by west­ern gov­ern­ments of NGOs inter­ven­ing in the Glob­al South to “save” the poten­tial vic­tims of this traf­fick­ing – the end goal of the­se pol­i­tics would mean more auton­o­my for the sex work­ers con­cerned, who are today reg­u­lar vic­tims, in many coun­tries, of a kind of  human­i­tar­i­an impe­ri­al­ism through NGOs and per­son­al­i­ties mak­ing up the “res­cue indus­try.”26 Addi­tion­al­ly, while a clear major­i­ty of sex work­ers in west­ern coun­tries are migrants or non-white work­ers, as are most of those “sup­port­ing” their activ­i­ty and then con­demned for pimp­ing, in those coun­tries the strug­gle again­st sex work most­ly takes the form of a racist offen­sive that par­tic­i­pates in the sys­tem­at­ic incar­cer­a­tion of non-white pop­u­la­tions. If some can take advan­tage of this sit­u­a­tion, as it emerges from the racist divi­sion of sex work, in order to claim the need to penal­ize the male clients who ben­e­fit from sex work – and who are pre­sumed to be pri­mar­i­ly white – then the desire to restore equi­lib­ri­um by rein­forc­ing the very same instru­ments of this sys­temic racism seems, on the con­trary, dan­ger­ous.27 My point is not to uncrit­i­cal­ly defend third par­ties and oth­er ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the sex indus­try: the decrim­i­nal­iza­tion of sex work has to be under­stood as a way of rein­forc­ing the auton­o­my of sex work­ers vis-à-vis the sit­u­a­tions of clan­des­tin­i­ty that make their exploita­tion eas­ier. In this con­text, the fre­quent­ly expressed fears that the recog­ni­tion of sex work would only give more weight to the sex­ist and racist divi­sion of labor seem not only unfound­ed, but above all, this recog­ni­tion con­sti­tutes a pre­con­di­tion for the strug­gle again­st this divi­sion and the oppres­sions it caus­es.

To refuse to rec­og­nize sex work is to effec­tive­ly rein­force the divi­sion between “true” labor, espe­cial­ly waged work, enti­tled to be present in the pub­lic sphere, and “non-labor,” which takes place in the pri­vate sphere. The point is there­fore to do away with this oppo­si­tion between the pro­duc­tive sphere of waged work and the exchanges con­sid­ered to belong to the non-com­mod­i­fied pri­vate sphere, since this oppo­si­tion, which only serves to hide labor that is per­formed but not tak­en into account into the wage, is only prof­itable for cap­i­tal:

We have learned from Marx that the wage hides the unpaid labor that goes into prof­it. But mea­sur­ing work by the wage also hides the extent to which our famil­ial and social rela­tions have been sub­or­di­nat­ed to the rela­tions of pro­duc­tion – they have become rela­tions of pro­duc­tion  – so that every moment of our lives func­tions for the accu­mu­la­tion of cap­i­tal. The wage, and the lack of it, have allowed cap­i­tal to obscure the real length of our work­ing day. Work appears as just one com­part­ment of our lives, tak­ing place only in cer­tain times and spaces. The time we con­sume in the “social fac­to­ry,” prepar­ing our­selves for work or going to work, restor­ing our “mus­cles, nerves, bones and brains” with quick snacks, quick sex, movies, all this appears as leisure, free time, indi­vid­u­al choice.28

In oth­er words, the ques­tion is how to expand the scope of the fem­i­nist  slo­gan “the per­son­al is polit­i­cal” in order to include not only the repro­duc­tion of male dom­i­na­tion inside the pri­vate sphere, but also the repro­duc­tion of the dynam­ics favor­able to cap­i­tal­ism. In oth­er words, as Lise Vogel reminds us about domes­tic work, the divi­sion between the sphere of waged work and the sphere con­sid­ered as mere­ly part of the pri­vate sphere, espe­cial­ly in a patri­ar­chal soci­ety, only rein­forces the struc­tures of dom­i­na­tion:

The high­ly insti­tu­tion­al­ized demar­ca­tion of domes­tic labour from wage-labour in a con­text of male suprema­cy forms the basis for a series of pow­er­ful ide­o­log­i­cal struc­tures, which devel­op a force­ful life of their own.29

To affirm that “sex work is work,” and that sex, waged or not, can be work, must open the pos­si­bil­i­ty for a process of dis-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion – to employ the term used by Kathi Weeks in ref­er­ence to the Wages for House­work cam­paign – of wom­en from the sex­u­al­i­ty to which they are, in a patri­ar­chal cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety, often con­strained. As Cox and Fed­eri­ci put it, wom­en can deter­mine what they “are not.”30

In the same way, with the idea that “sex work is work,” even if the point is that we do not yet know which sex­u­al­i­ty to (re)build in the per­spec­tive of a fem­i­nist strug­gle, it is at least a ques­tion of know­ing about which one we do not want – a sex­u­al­i­ty of ser­vices orga­nized accord­ing to the sex­ist divi­sion of labor. As Sil­via Fed­eri­ci writes:

We want to call work what is work so that even­tu­al­ly we might redis­cov­er what is love and cre­ate our sex­u­al­i­ty, which we have nev­er known.31

Thus, with the “sex work is work” slo­gan, we do not mean to ask for sex work to be con­sid­ered as “a job like the oth­ers,” so that its decrim­i­nal­iza­tion would be its own end. The enforce­ment of such a lib­er­al pol­i­tics, as wit­nessed with the Ger­man or Dutch exam­ples, essen­tial­ly serves the inter­ests of the boss­es of the sex indus­try, so that the only effect of the­se poli­cies is to put sex work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion in the hands of the cap­i­tal­ists. The point is, on the con­trary, to reaf­firm that if this recog­ni­tion of sex work is nec­es­sary, it’s pre­cise­ly because only though a clear iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of sex work will wom­en then have the pow­er to refuse it, with­in the frame­work of a broad­er strug­gle for the refusal of work and a rad­i­cal refoun­da­tion of soci­ety and its dynam­ics of repro­duc­tion.

Conclusion

The analy­sis of sex work in terms of repro­duc­tive work brings many advan­tages.

First, by invit­ing us to look at the sex indus­try not only as a sim­ple indus­try in which cap­i­tal­ist, sex­ist, and racist dynam­ics are deployed, it allows us to con­sid­er the fun­da­men­tal role that sex work itself plays at the very heart of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem. In oth­er words, the point is not only to con­sid­er sex work­ers’ exploita­tion by way of the direct ben­e­fi­cia­ries of sex work – pimps, third par­ties, clients – but rather to con­sid­er the­se lat­ter only as the medi­a­tors of the more glob­al exploita­tion of wom­en by cap­i­tal.

Sec­ond, in allow­ing us to ana­lyze the dynam­ics at work in the repres­sion of sex work, a repres­sion notably linked to the issue of man­ag­ing migra­tion, intro­duc­ing sex work­ers into the more gen­er­al cat­e­go­ry of repro­duc­tive work­ers, side by side with domes­tic or care work­ers, allow us to grasp the stakes of sex work­ers’ strug­gles in terms of the strug­gle again­st neolib­er­al­ism and espe­cial­ly its effects on migrant or Third World wom­en.

Final­ly, by enabling us to rethink the very notion of labor, the­se analy­ses offer an oppor­tu­ni­ty to provide a new dynam­ic to the strug­gle again­st the appro­pri­a­tion of labor, a dynam­ic that can, in par­tic­u­lar, allow us to take into account all those work­ers tra­di­tion­al­ly exclud­ed from the­se strug­gles and who are often left to fight in iso­la­tion, in spite and in con­se­quence of the dev­as­tat­ing effects of cap­i­tal­ism on their lives (those who are pre­car­i­ous­ly self-employed, sin­gle moth­ers, sex work­ers, domes­tic work­ers, mid­wives, etc), in the aim of rad­i­cal­ly call­ing into ques­tion the divi­sion of labor and the ide­olo­gies – espe­cial­ly racist and sex­ist ide­olo­gies – on which it rests.

This arti­cle was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in Péri­ode


  1. The for­mer argu­ment is reg­u­lar­ly devel­oped in texts writ­ten by abo­li­tion­ist authors, see for instance, Jan­ice Raymond’s book Not a Choice, Not a Job (Wash­int­gon, D.C.: Potomac Books Inc, 2013); for the lat­ter posi­tion, Lil­ian Math­ieu, La fin du tap­in, Soci­olo­gie de la croisade pour l’abolition de la pros­ti­tu­tion (Paris: Bour­in, 2013), 17. 

  2. For an overview of the dis­cus­sions between the Wages for House­work move­ment and fem­i­nist and left­ist move­ments, see for instance Sil­via Fed­eri­ci and Nicole Cox, “Coun­ter­plan­ning from the Kitchen,” in Sil­via Fed­eri­ci, Rev­o­lu­tion at Point Zero, (Oak­land: PM Press, 2012), 28-40, a respon­se to “Wom­en and Pay for House­work” by Car­ol Lopate. 

  3. Car­ol Leigh, “Inven­ter le tra­vail du sexe,” in Luttes XXX – inspi­ra­tions du mou­ve­ment des tra­vailleuses du sexe, eds. Maria Nengeh Men­sah, Claire Thi­boutot and Louise Toupin (Mon­tréal: Édi­tions du Remue-ménage  2011), 267-270 

  4. Sil­via Fed­eri­ci, “Gen­der and Democ­ra­cy in the Neolib­er­al Agen­da: Fem­i­nist Pol­i­tics, Past and Present,” Fifth Sub­ver­sive Fes­ti­val, May 13, 2013, begin­ning from 1:12:00. Tran­scrip­tion by Ellis Suzan­na Slack, trans­la­tion by Mor­gane Mer­teuil. 

  5. Entre­tien avec Sil­via Fed­eri­ci: ’La chaîne de mon­tage com­mence à la cuisine, au lavabo, dans nos corps,’” La voix du Jaguar, 2013. 

  6. Fed­eri­ci and Cox, “Coun­ter­plan­ning from the Kitchen,” 31. 

  7. Ibid.  

  8. Sil­via Fed­eri­ci, “Why Sex­u­al­i­ty is Work,” in Rev­o­lu­tion at Point Zero, 25. 

  9. Sil­via Fed­eri­ci, “Wages Again­st House­work,” in Rev­o­lu­tion at Point Zero, 15.  

  10. Leopold­ina For­tu­nati, The Arcane of Repro­duc­tion: House­work, Pros­ti­tu­tion, Labour and Cap­i­tal, (Lon­don: Autono­me­dia, 1995), 17. 

  11. Ibid., 18.  

  12. Sil­via Fed­eri­ci, Cal­iban and the Witch, (New York: Autono­me­dia, 2004), 94-95. 

  13. Clyde Plumauzille, “Le ‘marché aux putains’ : économies sex­uelles et dynamiques spa­tiales du Palais-Roy­al dans le Paris révo­lu­tion­naire,” Revue Gen­re 10 (Fall 2013): 21, 26. 

  14. See Hen­ry Heller, The Bour­geois Rev­o­lu­tion in France, 1789-1815 (New York: Berghahn Books, 2009). 

  15. Karl Marx, Cap­i­tal, Vol­ume 1, “Machin­ery and Mod­ern Indus­try.” 

  16. See Alexan­dre Fron­dizi, His­toires de trot­toirs. Pros­ti­tu­tion, espace pub­lic et iden­tités pop­u­laires à la Gout­te d’Or, 1870 – 1914, Mémoire de thèse, 2007.  

  17. Unit­ed Nations: “Pro­to­col to Pre­vent, Sup­press and Pun­ish Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons, Espe­cial­ly Wom­en and Chil­dren, sup­ple­ment to the Unit­ed Nations Con­ven­tion again­st Transna­tion­al Orga­nized Crime,” Arti­cle 3.  

  18. Gayle Rubin, “Think­ing Sex: Notes for a Rad­i­cal The­o­ry of the Pol­i­tics of Sex­u­al­i­ty,” in Plea­sure and Dan­ger: Explor­ing Female Sex­u­al­i­ty, Car­ole Vance, ed. (Boston: Rout­ledge, 1984), 279.  

  19. See Eliz­a­beth Bern­stein, Tem­porar­i­ly Yours, Inti­ma­cy, Authen­tic­i­ty and the Com­merce of Sex (Chicago: Uni­ver­si­ty of Chicago, 2007).  

  20. Eliz­a­beth Bern­stein, “The Sex­u­al Pol­i­tics of the New Abo­li­tion­ism,” in Dif­fer­ences 18, no. 3 (2007): 137.  

  21. Sara R. Far­ris, “Femona­tion­al­ism and the ‘Reg­u­lar’ Army of Labor Called Migrant Wom­en,” His­to­ry of the Present 2, no. 2 (Fall 2012): 193-195. 

  22. Ibid., 185. 

  23. Ibid., 193. 

  24. Sil­via Fed­eri­ci, “Repro­duc­tion and Fem­i­nist Strug­gle in the New Inter­na­tion­al Divi­sion of Labor,” in Rev­o­lu­tion at Point Zero, 73. 

  25. Kathi Weeks, The Prob­lem with Work: Fem­i­nism, Marx­ism, Anti­work pol­i­tics and Post­work Imag­i­nar­ies (Durham: Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2011), 136.  

  26. See Lau­ra Agustin, “Kristof and the Res­cue Indus­try: The Soft Side of Impe­ri­al­ism,” Coun­ter­punch, Jan­u­ary 25, 2012. 

  27. See Yas­min Vafa, “Racial Injus­tice: The Case for Pros­e­cut­ing Buy­ers as Sex Traf­fick­ers,” RH Real­i­ty Check, June 11, 2014. 

  28. Fed­eri­ci and Cox, “Coun­ter­plan­ning from the Kitchen,” 35-36.  

  29. Lise Vogel, Marx­ism and the Oppres­sion of Wom­en: Toward a Uni­tary The­o­ry (Lei­den: Brill, 2013), 160. 

  30. Fed­eri­ci and Cox, “Coun­ter­plan­ning from the Kitchen,” 34. 

  31. Sil­via Fed­eri­ci, “Wages Again­st House­work,” 20. 

Author of the article

is a sex worker, secretary general of STRASS, member of the ICRSE office (International Comitee for the Rights of Sexworkers in Europe) and a representative of Western Europe in the office of NSWP (Network of Sex Work Projects).